Michael Horka receives 2016 Phillip J. Amsterdam Teaching Award

Student spotlight

What is your area of interest within American Studies/your dissertation?     

My dissertation considers nature in its figures and forms that animate our feelings and politics after the so-called “end of nature.”  I consider science fiction novels, primarily from the 1980s to the near present, to unearth, as it were, what lies below the surface.  The novels I examine often employ the trope of Apocalypse, which helps unsettle or explode that ground, so that we can see the connections between race, gender, nature, religion, and time more clearly.

Were you always interested in American Studies and this particular topic?

I came to GW as an MA student to research the relationship between religion, queerness, and power.  In particular, I was interested in the Catholic Church and its fascinating gender and sexuality formations.  I still think this is important work that needs to be done.  I had been interested in the politics of climate change, as well, and over time I began to feel the pull towards research on ecological politics due to the urgency and scale of the problems.

Can you explain what the Phillip J. Amsterdam Award is?

The award goes to graduate student instructors who have made contributions to teaching at GW.  A student or students nominate the GA for the award.  It is then judged based on various things like teaching evaluations, letters of recommendation, departmental recommendation, student support, and so on.

Several other American Studies students have won the Amsterdam Award. What common traits do American Studies GAs have that enables them to be such effective instructors?

I am not certain what common traits we possess.  What is clear is that our students find us compelling enough to nominate and support our applications, which is wonderful.  I think we all are interested in finding ways to excite students and to get them engaged with the material we are studying.  If we have something very specific in common it’s that we have excellent faculty models for teaching.

Who are some of your role models for teaching?

First, I have to say that each American Studies professor I have been in class with or worked with has taught me something about good teaching.  Two stand out, however.  Jen Nash is an extraordinary at leading conversations and finding ways to engage students.  She is also a model of generosity with students.  Tom Guglielmo is a terrific lecturer and has great instincts with a group of students.

To what do you attribute your success as a PhD candidate?

I am a success as a PhD candidate?  That’s nice to hear.  I am concerned with giving my best to my research and to my students and I’ll let other people make their judgments about me.  I am happy to attribute any success to Melani McAlister, however.  She has been a tremendous mentor and without her guidance and support, I would not be in the position that I am today.

Any plans for the professional development funding?

Not as of yet.